Halloween (2018)

David Gordon Green’s powerful sequel to the beloved Halloween shakes things up and effectively erases decades of tainted mythology.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There have been so many Halloween movies as to lose count. Sequels upon sequels. Spin-offs upon remakes. I have not seen them all, thank god, so I was relieved to discover this new Halloween movie doesn’t require me to. It’s a direct follow-up to the great 1978 original, which means we can forget about all the nonsense that has polluted the past 40 years. Rightfully so – this sequel is a whole lot of fun, right down to the scene of a little boy clipping his toenails.

Of course it’s not fun in any conventional sense. This is a movie where a gas station attendant gets his jaw smashed on a counter and a housewife is battered with a hammer. But the key to these Halloween movies is the way their characters draw attention away from the violence. Most slasher pictures glorify the bloodshed. They’re not so much about who is getting killed as about how much brain is being splattered. Halloween goes to great lengths to make its heroes and villains interesting, so that on some basic level, they are worth caring about.

I, for one, care a great deal for the killer Michael Myers (played in unison by Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney and Tony Moran) and the frantic heroine Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis). Myers is a monolithic creature of murder, yes, but why? He kills in cold blood, but one gets the feeling there’s a labyrinth of dread and intelligence beneath that pale mask. Perhaps the mystery of his mind is why he’s always accompanied by a psychiatrist who wrongly believes he is exempt from Michael’s blade.

Curtis, who originated the role in 1978 and returned in many of the forgettable sequels, is now a weathered grandma determined to see her tormentor perish. Her daughter and granddaughter are estranged, broken by years of paranoid delusions that Myers will return to finish them off. Her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), the poor girl, spent her childhood rigging booby traps and abusing mannequins as target practice. It’s a wonder she didn’t grow up to become G.I. Jane.

Naturally, Michael escapes, on Halloween night no less, and at first I thought it was all going to happen again. Michael kills. Laurie and the cops try in vain to stop him. Michael flees. Roll the credits. But then the movie shifts by turning the plot from violence to intimacy. It becomes a showdown. A showdown between two well-acquainted predators. It’s very intense and very well-made, utterly thrilling, clever, at times funny, and totally worthy of John Carpenter’s great masterpiece. Seldom is a sequel this fulfilling.

Halloween is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 

Image © Universal Pictures 2018

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Movie Review – Apostle

The director of The Raid returns with Apostle, but it doesn’t quite hit the stylish heights he’s capable of.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

1905. Former missionary Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) receives word that his sister has been kidnapped by a secretive cult demanding ransom for her return. Under the guise of a believer in their Prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), Thomas travels to the remote Welsh island upon which they dwell to rescue her. He enters the island prepared to fight but is not prepared for the great evil that both the people of the cult and the greater power they worship are capable of.

Netflix are certainly guilty of grabbing anything they can get their greedy paws on for their massively popular streaming service. This has resulted in some pretty sub-par originals, but every once in a while, there’s a name attached to their offerings that’s worth getting excited over. It happened with Alex Garland for Annihilation (which certainly delivered), and now Gareth Evans for Apostle.

Evans is the mastermind behind the excellent martial arts The Raid movies and the best segment of the V/H/S anthologies Safe Haven. It’s a little disappointing that his long-awaited follow-up Apostle can’t be experienced in theatres. Having said that, while Apostle is certainly good, it doesn’t quite live up to the high bar Evans has set for himself, so perhaps it’s forgivable that we can only access it from home.

Closest in tone to Safe Haven, which similarly explored a malevolent cult, Apostle also bears a lot of similarities to just about every cult-horror movie ever made, from the classics like The Wicker Man and The Children of the Corn to this gen’s Kill List and The Sacrament. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ingredients may feel familiar, but Evans uses them to create his own recipe, one that matches his own style of building characters through ramping the events around them up to the blood pressure-bursting extreme.

Dan Stevens proves he’s well on the way to becoming a household name by carrying these distressing events on his charismatic shoulders. He dives headfirst into very unpleasant situations as the slow-burning tension gives way to a satisfying explosion of ultra-gore.

There’s a heap of ideas here that don’t land or end up unexplained and abandoned. At the very least, Apostle is huge on entertainment value and still bears the mark of a talented director. It’s a little upsetting to hear Evans’ planned Raid threequel was deserted in favour of this passion project, but for some hardcore thrills at home late on a Friday night, he’s got you covered.

Apostle is available on Netflix from October 12 

Image courtesy of Netflix Inc

Movie Review – Bad Times at the El Royale

Devilishly unpredictable and fiendishly fun, Bad Times at the El Royale – pleasingly – doesn’t live up to its title.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

In 1969, four strangers – a priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm) and a mysterious young woman (Dakota Johnson) – check into the El Royale, a hotel that sits directly on the border of California and Nevada. But no one is really what they appear and everybody holds a secret. On this fateful night, a bag of stolen money, a charismatic cult leader (Chris Hemsworth), and the sinister voyeurism behind the scenes at the El Royale brings these strangers’ hidden motives and connections to a violent revelation.

Writer and director Drew Goddard’s twisty mystery Bad Times at the El Royale feels kind of like a mish-mash of two fairly recent films. The first is Goddard’s own The Cabin in the Woods. His latest shares its tongue in cheek genre-deconstructing and near-perverse god’s eye peering into his characters.

The other is Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which very similarly gathered unfamiliar people with skeletons in their closets in one tight-knit location, only to ramp up the tension and let things explode in an unpredictable, bloody mess. It’s possible that Goddard saw this and thought “maybe I can do better” – if he hasn’t succeeded, he’s at least equalled in raw entertainment, thrills and intensity.

Squeezing together a delicious cast, Goddard keeps up the intrigue by not allowing us to know who is about to check out when, giving us that true ‘anyone can die at any moment’ sense that Game of Thrones made its name with. Needless to say, not everyone makes it through this wild night, but every actor manages to make an impression. The real delight is Broadway singer Cynthia Erivo in what will undoubtedly be her breakout role.

Bad Times is truly an experience that demands to be seen knowing as little as possible. Though it purposely leaves at least two of its key questions unanswered, the ride up until then is rollicking. Filled with moments of unbearable tension, laughs, and some genuine emotion – not to mention beautifully shot on 35mm film with Panavision lenses – Bad Times is, ironically, a seriously good time.

Bad Times at the El Royale is available in Australian cinemas from October 11 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 15 & Nov 24.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – The Nun

Whatever you do, don’t stop praying… that the Conjuring universe is going to start having spin-offs that can live up to their ilk.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

1952, Romania. After a young nun takes her own life at a monastery, the Vatican dispatches a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), and a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Guided by the monastery’s supply boy Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the pair soon find their stay in the foreboding castle take a turn for the life-threatening, as a supernatural presence reveals itself.

The mega-success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe structure has long since left the realm of superhero blockbusters. Now, every studio is taking a crack across varying genres. The first horror shared universe – The Conjuring Universe – has a high hit-to-miss rate. The latest spin-off spook straight out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s museum of haunted objects is The Nun, which is a bit of a small-fry next to its creepier predecessors.

Putting front-and-centre the scary sister who plagued Lorraine in The Conjuring 2, The Nun places us on the earliest point in the Conjuring timeline, some twenty years before the events of the main series. Heavily marketed as the “darkest chapter”, it’s ironically the lightest in terms of narrative, scares and overall substance. The Catholic investigation set-up is promising enough, but once the holy duo settles in at the monastery, all story progression is dropped in favour of set piece after set piece, few of which actually manage to rattle the bones.

The titular Nun herself fails to live up to her previously established eeriness. While certainly unsettling as a dark figure floating ominously in a hallway, up-close she’s all CGI fangs and bug-eyes, a goofy choice that drains all sense of dread.

Mother inferiors aside, The Nun still has its merits. Slickly shot and atmospheric, there’s at least enough entertainment value here. The cast mostly succeeds too, in particular the spirited Taissa Farmiga, who is every bit as watchable as her older sister Vera in the main Conjuring films. It’ll be interesting to see if they pair the two up in a future instalment. Of course, if the Conjuring cinematic universe is to endure, let’s hope they start putting the same amount of effort into their side dishes as they do the main course.

The Nun is available in Australian cinemas from September 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Hereditary

Trauma-inducing, nerve pounding, soul shredding satanic fun for the whole family.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

When the reclusive grandmother of the Graham family passes away, strange things begin to happen to her descendants. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) attends support groups where she reveals the troubles her family has faced and her strained relationship with her son Peter (Alex Wolff). After a bid to get her introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) socialising more with Peter ends in another horrific demise, Annie’s family deteriorates further. Much to the disdain of her sceptical husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie attempts to communicate with her daughter through séances, and in the process unravels some dark and terrifying secrets about the Graham family ancestry.

It’s often interesting to reflect on the marketing campaigns behind independent horror films. Looking back at the trailers for first-time feature director Ari Aster’s Hereditary makes it seem like an event packed to the brim with moments designed to make viewers jump out of their seats – in other words, a mainstream horror crowd. In reality, there’s approximately one, maybe two jump scares total in Hereditary. Those more accustomed to independent horror will likely expect the slow burn and favour of disturbing imagery over things going bang, while a more casual viewer could be in for an unexpected shock. In that sense, perhaps the marketing team behind Hereditary are geniuses; deliberately misleading a larger crowd into seeing a film that will truly disturb and rattle them to the core.

Aster’s jaw-dropping debut is a difficult beast to define. In some senses, it feels like a patchwork threaded together from things we’ve already seen; there’s the haunted house sensibilities and ritualism of mainstays like The Conjuring and Insidious, and the oppressively patient atmosphere and satanic phenomenon of A24’s last horror hit, The Witch. But uniquely, Hereditary feels only half of a horror film; it builds immense tension doubling as a distressingly dysfunctional family drama.

At the film’s beating heart is the great Toni Collette, who goes against her quirky mum type from the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and United States of Tara. Here she’s one monster of a matriarch, making herself deeply sympathetic as she copes poorly with the agony of losing both her mother and daughter, while simultaneously revealing herself as terrifyingly unstable.

As is usually the case with films like these, it’s best entering Hereditary knowing as little as possible about what’s about to unfold. It’s yet another stunning debut from a director to watch, and another triumph from the ever-creative A24.

Hereditary is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – Cargo

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, Martin Freeman plays Andy, a man roaming the outback desperate to find sanctuary for his daughter before he turns into a zombie. Along the way, he encounters Thoomi a young girl who agrees to help Andy if for nothing more than the company in a vastly decreasing population of unaffected people.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Cargo, from first time filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, follows the story of Andy as he desperately tries to make his way across the outback in a post-apocalyptic Australia to try and get his one-year-old daughter to safety before he succumbs to a zombie virus. Along the way, he meets Thoomi, a young girl who is to protect her zombified father from being killed and who may just be able to help lead him and his daughter to safety.

Zombie films are hard sells nowadays, and a zombie film in the outback an even harder one. With the ever growing list of zombie franchises such as the popular TV series The Walking Dead, iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet, and the endless Resident Evil films, not to mention the standalone films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (just to name a few), there are few angles left to take.

Surprisingly, Cargo manages to carefully straddle the line between formulaic and unique to present a film that is recognisable enough in its themes and plot for audiences to understand they’re watching a zombie film, but its careful characterisation and location choice ultimately present a different take on the whole zombie epidemic.

Martin Freeman is brilliant as the helpless Andy who’s just trying to keep his family safe. His paternal protectiveness of his young daughter Rosie is his drive throughout the entire film, and is played to such precision that it gives the whole film purpose, that is often missing from traditional zombie films. Newcomer Simone Landers is wonderfully strong and insightful as Thoomi. Her powerful belief in her culture’s traditional rituals is never portrayed as naïve but instead is a sliver of hope in a largely doomed world.

Ultimately this film isn’t about a zombie-virus invasion or white vs. Indigenous culture; it is simply a story of survival, where the outback is no longer a dangerous environment but actually a sanctuary, and where the people remaining are trying to survive in any way they know how. Whilst the film contains the necessary drone shots of the Australian outback for the international viewers, it portrays the outback in a completely different way as well, almost as Australians see it rather than something to be feared.

I’d definitely recommend giving this film a watch, if not for a different take on Australian culture in cinema or a unique offering to the zombie genre, then at least for Martin Freeman owning this role like a boss.

Cargo is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – Unsane

Amateurish in design and cheesy in execution; Unsane is far from Steven Soderbergh’s finest.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Unsane has all the ingredients of a proper thriller. It is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose movies have been very popular and successful. It stars Claire Foy, who is undeniably masterful in it. It’s carefully put together. Yet somehow it ends up resembling a middling student project. I can’t say it’s because the entire film was shot on an iPhone 7 (the cinematography lends it a certain immediacy). No, I think it’s because it’s miserably confused, and uses cheap tactics for maximum effect.

The plot, devised by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, is strange in that it aspires to uncover how insurance scams are in partnership with corrupt mental health facilities, while also striving to be a gruesome psychological thriller in which a perceived stalker may or may not be an actual stalker. The stalker story works, more or less. So does the horrid truth that agencies claiming to treat the mentally wounded might in fact be scamming them. The problem is the two stories don’t work together, which makes their credibility awfully suspect.

Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, an office worker who’s convinced her stalker has followed her from Boston. She consults a shrink and in a flash she’s confined to a hospital bed for seven days. But wait, could that strange orderly who gazes uncomfortably at her actually be the man she’s been running away from? How could he have found her?

I wouldn’t dream of telling you if the orderly is indeed her stalker, even though knowing isn’t that big of a deal. Much of the mental hospital portion plays like a tribute to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), but without the rigid domineering figure of a Nurse Ratched to really amp up the suspense. It is a world designed to remove power from those deemed too unstable to control it themselves.

Soderbergh, whose great films include Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) and Side Effects (2013), seems to have approached Unsane as an experiment he never really prepares for. He has at his feet two genuine issues to tackle; a movie about either one could have been something magical. Instead, people start dying, chases abound and all nuance is flung out the window. At least he has Claire Foy, who supports Unsane with the strength of a legion and very nearly makes it work. Observe a late scene set in solitary confinement. Brilliant stuff.

Unsane is available in Australian cinemas from April 26 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Truth or Dare

Truth? This movie sucks…


Josip Knezevic

Nowadays, it’s pretty difficult to find a horror film that’s genuinely terrifying; jump scares and creepy monsters lurking in the dark just don’t cut it anymore. Truth or Dare writer/director Jeff Wadlow seems to think the answer is to take a familiar game that most of us associate with a time of innocence, and turn it into something grisly…

On a night of drunken silliness, a group of college friends play a typical game of truth or dare. Each player must either give an honest answer to an uncomfortable question or accept a challenge to do something embarrassing or even a little dangerous. Things take a sinister turn when the game becomes possessed and begins to infiltrate their everyday lives. If they fail to answer a question or fulfil a challenge, then the consequence is death.

While this premise has merit, Wadlow’s execution is downright laughable. When the game possesses a friend in the group, it warps their face and over enlarges their smile. The resultant look doesn’t emulate a deranged clown like Pennywise, or a psychopathic villain like the Joker, it just looks like a ridiculous Snapchat filter. It’s pretty funny stuff, and not at all frightening.

It doesn’t help that this unintentionally comical narrative is populated with unlikeable, cookie-cutter characters, from Lucy Hale’s (Pretty Little Liars, Dude) innocent, girl next door Olivia, to Landon Liboiron’s (Frontier, Hemlock Grove) seemingly nice, but ultimately untrustworthy stranger Carter.

Even the production quality is terrible. The opening scene is a mish-mashed montage of footage filmed from iPhones and proper cameras. It’s like Wadlow said to the actors – don’t worry about the script, just go out and shoot some shit with your phones while you’re having fun and we’ll put it together. There’s nothing wrong with shooting on an iPhone, but pick one or the other, stick to it and keep it consistent.

Besides some work on Bates Motel, Wadlow’s filmography is fairly light on horror and thriller. His only real claims to fame are Kick Ass 2 and Never Back Down… which are hardly titles to boast about. Production company Blumhouse Productions, on the other hand, have had some real stand out films in recent times, with Joel Edgerton’s The Gift and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but they’re also responsible for the Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchises. When they hit they hit, but when they miss, they miss by a mile.

Blumhouse Productions’ latest effort Truth or Dare is so bad it’s almost good – it won’t send tingles down your spine, but it’ll give you some laughs as a bunch of stupid teenagers do stupid stuff.

Truth or Dare is available in Australian cinemas from April 12

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – A Quiet Place

Engulfed in a thick fog of tension, A Quiet Place is an early contender for the best horror film of 2018.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The best horror movies are those that prey on very basic, primal fears; things like don’t breathe, don’t blink or don’t move. In A Quiet Place, writer/actor/director John Krasinski implores his audience and his characters to not make a sound. The film, set in the not-too-distant future, centres around a family who must navigate their lives in total silence after the world is overrun by vicious creatures who hunt via noise, where even the slightest tremor or tinkle could alert them to your presence.

Krasinski really sells us on this bleak and unforgiving future. The fear and dread conveyed with every creaking floorboard or crunchy leaf underfoot is immediately arresting, and effective direction from Krasinski, in only his third feature film, envelops the theatre, getting under your skin and putting you on edge right from the get-go. Few films are as adept as crafting tension as A Quiet Place; prepare to peer though your fingers, dig your nails into the armrest and squirm like you’ve got an eel in your undies.

A distinct lack of a dialogue – the characters communicate via subtitled American Sign Language –means the viewer is scanning the auditory soundscape for every scuffle and snarl as much as they are probing the frame for shadows. The absence of dialogue shifts the focus onto the facial expressions of the actors, as well as the subtle and unnerving sound design. Rising to the occasion, Krasinski and real-life as well as onscreen wife Emily Blunt are great in conveying this paralysing terror through their performances.

There are more than a few hair-raising jump scares that punctuate the tension, and the film doesn’t waste time in getting to the point; an in medias res prologue sets the scene before leaping ahead several months to establish the family in their new normal; fishing in the river and washing laundry all in total silence.

And while the film is light on specifics – this isn’t a sci-fi/thriller that goes to great lengths to explore the how and why of its gruesome antagonists – it also isn’t a horror film where you never get a good look at the predator lurking in the bushes. The most immediate and obvious comparison is Ridley Scott’s Alien – the fear of the unknown and the undefeatable pervades every scene – but JJ Abrams’ Super 8 and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs also spring to mind.

An overreliance on Marco Beltrami’s strings signposts some of the biggest scares and the rather simplistic concept feels a little strung out across the 95-minute runtime, with the finale arriving in a hurry, but this is a compelling and gruesome creature feature from Krasinski, and one that will enthral genre fans and general audiences alike.

A Quiet Place is available in Australian cinemas from April 5

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 

Movie Review – Winchester

The Australian Spierig brothers are back with a new horror film, but will they build on their existing success, or rest on their laurels?

⭐ ⭐ ½     
Elle Cahill

When drug addicted psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is asked to travel out to the Winchester manor and assess widower Sarah Winchester’s (Helen Mirren) mental state following the death of her husband, he is immediately intrigued. Heiress to the Winchester fortune and firearms corporation, Sarah has spent decades obsessively renovating the manor, with round-the-clock construction allowing her to build additional rooms reaching seven storeys high… but to what end? Perhaps she’s mad. Or perhaps it has something to do with the troubled souls of the many innocents who have fallen victim to Winchester weapons… it is for Price to decide.

Although set in the 1950s and loosely based on the true events of “the most haunted house in history”, Winchester is very relevant to today’s landscape. The film makes a point of singling out guns as the lead perpetrator in the death of innocent people and its clear that Sarah Winchester is frightfully aware of the damage her products are causing to society.

With the exception of Mirren, the cast is almost entirely made up of Australian talent, with Sarah Snook (The Dressmaker, Not Suitable for Children) and Angus Sampson (Mad Max: Fury Road) supporting Clarke. Mirren is serene and wise in her role as Winchester, but it’s Clarke’s performance as Price that is the show stealer as he struggles to separate reality from his drug-addled haze.

Directed by the Australian Spierig brothers, who brought us the mind-bending Predestination in 2014 and last year’s Jigsaw, Winchester relies heavily on old school horror techniques. The scares are fast, but not overplayed, with the presence of supernatural beings indicated through slammed doors and suspicious thuds. The Winchester mansion is also an incredible set piece and almost a character in itself, with staircases that lead to nowhere, flat winding hallways and rooms that are bordered up with planks of wood, all of which adds to the overall eerie mood.

Winchester is an interesting film given the current climate surrounding gun violence in the US, and the scares are both well-orchestrated and heart-pounding, but it doesn’t bring anything original to the horror genre and at times, it becomes predictable.

Winchester is available in Australian cinemas from February 22

Image courtesy of StudioCanal